South Africa is in the midst of a growing consumer consciousness over the effect of our consumption habits on the environment. From a rapid rise in vegetarianism and veganism to reduce our carbon output (the meat industry is a notorious contributor to CO2 emissions) to a revolt against the use of plastics, consumers are taking greater care than ever to ensure their habits have little to no adverse effect on our fragile environment.
There is good reason for this: according to the UN Environment Programme, if we continue to use plastic at our current rate, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish by as early as 2050. In light of this, consumers are pushing back against brands and demanding more sustainable options for everyday items.
Considering the prevalence of smartphones and digitisation of every aspect of our lives, this resistance is extending even to the humble paper receipt, which contributes greatly to our pollution output despite most consumers not wanting one in the first place.
Here we take a look at three everyday items that can – and should – be replaced with more eco-friendly alternatives.
In the US alone, consumers use 390 million straws every single day. Consider that a single straw takes up to 200 years to even start breaking down, and you have a good view of the size and scope of the damage wrought by plastic straws. Consumers, businesses and policy makers are taking note: South Africa’s government has indicated it is considering legislation banning single-use plastic straws, while hotel giant Tsogo Sun has already banned them from its more than 100 resorts and casinos, joining Ocean Basket and Starbucks. Many consumers are now requesting no straw with their drink or opting for bamboo (or, if you’re a Kardashian, pasta) straws.
Plastic shopping bags
Despite a government levy on plastic shopping bags, South Africans use approximately eight billion plastic bags every year. The United Nations estimates that 1 trillion plastic shopping bags are produced annually, with 2 million thrown away every minute. The country’s major retailers are upping their game: Shoprite Checkers have launched new stronger plastic bags and will pay customers to reuse them. Pick n Pay have introduced new compostable shopping bags that break down within 3-6 months (instead of the 500-1000 years a typical plastic bag takes to decompose). And Woolworths plan to complete phase out single-use plastic bags from its stores by 2020.
More than 10 million trees are consumed each year to create receipts in the US alone, while more than 11 billion receipts are printed in the UK per year. Aside from the impact on forests and plantations, more than 90% of today’s thermal paper receipts are coated with BPA and BPS, toxic chemicals that have been identified as health risks. And since most paper receipts end up in the trash – as much as 95% of them, according to some estimates – many leading retailers (such as Apple) have moved to digital receipting.
These receipts, delivered directly to a customer’s phone or email address, contains all the info needed for product returns or warranties without the eco-guilt. Digital receipts also give consumers additional value such as easy integration to budgeting tools, convenient storing for insurance purposes, and opportunities for the retailer to directly reward customers by giving them discounts (or even loyalty points) based on their purchase.
Local company Prodigi has been working with local retailers to digitise their receipts and give them insight into the habits and preferences of their customers. Long live the digital receipt!